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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: It’s better to be a ‘learn-it-all’ than a ‘know-it-all’

In a wide-ranging interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, published Thursday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella outlined some of the things he is doing to change the culture at Microsoft — and one of the main ones is creating an environment focused on learning.

The company’s business was built in the hard-charging, take-no-prisoners style of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, pursuing the goal of putting a computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft’s software. The company accomplished that goal, and then the world changed — Apple, Google, Amazon and others began leading the way in many of the key platforms for computing and online services.

Now in “middle age,” at 41 years old, Microsoft is looking to future success. Here’s what Nadella told the magazine about the cultural change at the company.

You’ve worked very hard to overhaul the culture here at Microsoft. How is it going?
Culture is something that needs to adapt and change, and you’ve got to be able to have a learning culture. The intuition I got was from observing what happens in schools. I read a book called Mindset. In there there’s this very simple concept that Carol Dweck talks about, which is if you take two people, one of them is a learn-it-all and the other one is a know-it-all, the learn-it-all will always trump the know-it-all in the long run, even if they start with less innate capability.

Nadella goes on to say that everyone — from children, to Microsoft employees, to CEOs — needs to be open-minded if they want to succeed.

I need to be able to walk out of here this evening and say, “Where was I too closed-minded, or where did I not show the right kind of attitude of growth in my own mind?” If I can get it right, then we’re well on our way to having the culture we aspire to.

Nadella’s goal is to keep the company from getting too caught up its initial success. Microsoft’s increasing emphasis on its cloud platform, Azure, is an important example of that.

We’ve been tremendously successful. So we need to remind ourselves that every new business that’s going to grow at Microsoft is not going to grow in multibillion-dollar chunks. In fact, one of the big decisions I had to make even before I became CEO was to prioritize Azure as the future of our server business when it was a cumulative $5 million business and to say, “Oh, this is going to be the future of the $20 billion server business.” That is what companies like ours who have had success need to be able to do.

Nadella said the biggest trend of today is the move to the cloud as well as mobility between devices. The next big things, Nadella said, will be “mixed reality,” the ability to simplify computing and make it more like every day language — something Microsoft is looking to do through its new Skype Bots — and the spread of machine learning and artificial intelligence to every developer and every app.

Read the full Bloomberg Businessweek interview here.

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